During my career, I worked with and around cops that turned out to be criminals. The pedophile reserve. The Temple Station trio that preyed upon unsuspecting motorists, pilfering credit cards to pay for their play toys. The seemingly too cool cop with a penchant for moving evidence and falsifying reports. The deputy who ran names of citizens on behalf of the mob; another who actually did hits on their behalf.
Hell, my best friend from the Academy turned out to be a serial rapist.
Thankfully, these exceptions were just that, and constituted a negligible percentage of the Sheriff's Department's otherwise dedicated work force. Most of the time, too, the revelations of their sociopathology were genuinely surprising.
For others, there was no shortage of red flags. Sometimes, the deputies were on the administrative radar well before their inevitable arrests. One was known for retaining the driver's licenses of female motorists, only to make after-hours visitations to their homes, ostensibly to return the cards.
In an effort to rehabilitate this deputy's career, the Department had been lax on the discipline front. In exchange for its amnesties, he'd pushed the envelope, eventually getting arrested for an on-duty rape and serving the better part of a 14-year prison sentence. Would more severe punishment early on have curtailed his predatory behavior? Maybe, maybe not. Would it have saved the Department the ensuing embarrassment of having a highly publicized prosecution of a deputy sheriff? Quite possibly.
Right now, there are any number of bad cops flying under the radar. People with badges who are exploiting their positions and the people they come in contact with.
And somewhere I suspect is a fellow cop who is burdened with the knowledge.
What to do?
It's almost a rhetorical question. Procedurally, we know what to do. But are we psychologically prepared to do it?
I think it goes against the grain for most cops to dime off another. Whether out of a sense of loyalty or fear, some within can become curiously mute in diming off their own—ironic given the horror our profession expresses at the "Stop the Snitchin'" campaigns.
Not that there aren't some legitimate reasons to be apprehensive. For however romantic the notions of doing the right thing can be, the fact is that history has seen the Roman Messenger killed, the whistle blower silenced, Billy Mitchell court marshaled, and Serpico targeted.
Add this to the inherently distasteful thought of screwing over another cop - internal affairs will have a percentage of people bucking for promotion on someone else's badge - and it's small wonder that we don't want to play watchmen on one another.
But consider this: There are those working I.A. not because they necessarily want to, or enjoy the idea of getting cops fired, but genuinely feel in their hearts that they have a mission to uphold the integrity of the badge, and recognize that enforcing the law means sometimes doing so in house, as well.
It may not be needed for all of us. But whatever else, the reality of I.A. is that it helps keep the fence straddlers in check and holds the deserving accountable.
So while I am not suggesting that you go looking for dirt on your partners, I am suggesting that if you're working with someone who is breaking the very law he is sworn to uphold, you have an obligation to do something about it.
I'm not talking slippery slope stuff—the acceptance of a free coffee, or badging one's way into a venue. I'm talking when they're well off the slope and in a damned freefall.
That's when it's not something that can wait until a supervisor finds out by happenstance, or a victim of their actions finally reaches the right person. That's when it's something that requires you to bring it to another's attention: a supervisor, their captain, internal affairs, or even an outside agency if the problem is seemingly pandemic.
At the very least, ask to work with a new partner, or be transferred to another shift. Anything that'll put distance between you and the offending officer so that you don't get implicated in an act of officer-involved stupidity.
I trust, indeed pray that a vast majority of cops reading this will think, What the hell is he talking about? and truly have no clue what I'm talking about.
For the others, I hope they'll do the right thing, and not only have the peace of mind of knowing that they have done so, but support from their organizations for their having done so.
Some columns are easier to write than others. This ain't one of them.
However anal-retentive, cliqueish, arrogant, and aggravating they can sometimes be, cops have always been prominent among my heroes.
But the fact remains that few bad cops have been busted for singular transgressions; often, someone knew where things were headed long before they got there. When I factor in the continually dropping bar of hiring standards throughout the country, I don't think I'm being unduly pessimistic or apprehensive when I consider what the future might hold.
And that scares me.
For having been already hamstrung with the legacies of Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Tyisha Miller, and other controversial incidents, this generation of cops cannot afford another Abner Louima incident, anymore Rafael Perez's.
As Serpico illustrated, crooked cops gain a seemingly pandemic toe-hold on public consciousness. They provide fodder for our critics, give pause to our supporters, and inspire insipid songs like Cop Killer.
And in doing so, they make the job of law enforcement even more dangerous for the good cops.